Book 46: Kinky by Denise Duhamel

This is a collection of poetry written about and to theoretical Barbies. A friend in the program lent me this book, and I was quite flattered after reading it; the pros to being obnoxiously outspoken continue to outweigh the cons.

I flipped through the book before I was ready to sit down and read it – just among some friends and professors – and stumbled upon what might be the most witty piece in the book; “Native American Barbie,” which is comprised of one line – “There’s only one left.” From that point on I knew I was holding a collection that would address some powerful issues and do so in a very comedic yet honest way.

The social commentary here’s intense – Duhamel touches on gender roles, sexuality, hypersexualization, empowerment, and so much more. It gets trippy – she writes about marriage and incest (“Tragedy” was quite a strong little poem) in very interesting ways. Duhamel also drops in the names of many powerful women (ie. “She preferred glamour to Ginsberg” 55).

The book had a distinctly feminist overtone; Duhamel is clearly challenging beauty standards here, but she’s also commenting on ability, on race, and more. Most frequently, Duhamel focuses on the body of the American woman as a whole; how society asks us to shape it, how we as women are expected to fit the Barbie mold. Her commentary on race, ability, and size make it a very compelling collection of poems while still maintaining a frivolity that is incredibly appealing.

Duhamel writes a good deal on sex here, as well as molestation, objectification, and the ever-shamed menstruation. I admired her constant reflections on bodily autonomy, on the nature of the female (not so trans-inclusive) body. Duhamel also reverses the male gaze in multiple instances, portraying Ken as the object, with Barbie fulfilling the role of the complex and superior being.

The division of the book into four sections (Lipstick, Powder Blush, Mascara, and Eye-Shadow) was interesting. I didn’t really feel like it needed to be split into sections, but that may just be a personal preference. I assume it’s meant to tie-in to Barbie’s made-up face and the societal pressure on women to present themselves, down to the color of their cheeks and eyelids, as perfect beings.

I took a bit of issue with Duhamel’s bits on religion, specifically Buddhism and the Mormon faith, for the simple fact that her poems contained religious stereotypes. Painting all Mormon women as sister wives is inaccurate, as is her use of the image of a fat  Buddha – the fat Buddha that we see so frequently is a more Americanized version of the Buddha, who represents moderation more traditionally. It’s a bit blatant here that Duhamel is a white woman writing on a religion she’s not affiliated with, which is an issue I have with some of her writing on race in earlier sections of the collection. I feel that her intention with “Buddhist Barbie” in relations to fatness were good, though flawed on the whole.

This collection was published in the early 1990’s. It could have been written yesterday and still be on the nose (aside from some slight terminology shifts, which did not detract from the whole).

I give it an 8/10.

Kinky

Happy reading,
Scarlett

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